It was going to be difficult to do, but Florence made it happen and put itself in position to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in a long, long time.
The Buffaloes won three of their last four District 25-3A games and four of their last six, including a 2-1 win over third-ranked Lago Vista on Friday at home to tie with Johnson City LBJ for the league’s fourth seed.
Florence’s victory over Lago Vista in the season finale was a monumental feat. The loss was just the fourth of the season for the Vikings (23-4, 9-3 25-3A).
“We went into it knowing they were a great team,” Buffaloes head coach Bryce Estes said. “It was going to take everything we had to get a win and to have everything work in our favor.
“Things happened our way, it fell into place and, once we got that final out, the kids were jumping up and yelling.
“There was a ton of excitement going all around — from the players and the fans. It was just a great thing to be a part of.”
A big key to the triumph over Lago Vista was Japanese foreign-exchange student Masa Hashiguchi. Hashiguchi, a sophomore, tossed six innings and allowed just one run on three hits and a walk while striking out seven.
“We told him, going into it, to have every pitch available and throw them for strikes,” Estes said.
“He’s a great competitor and one heck of an athlete. He was on his game, and it was exciting to see him compete like that on the mound right from the get-go.
“He’s definitely got a different release, which can be different to people at the plate. They’re not used to seeing mechanics like that, and it can make things complicated.”
Matthew Edgar recorded the save in the seventh, sitting the Vikings down in order while recording one strikeout to preserve the win.
But the turnaround to the season for the Buffaloes started in the second round of 25-3A, when they were able to get their entire team together for the first time. Florence has a litany of baseball players involved in multiple sports and competitions, including track and field and agriculture.
“I think we just finally came together and got some good team chemistry going,” Estes said. “We got more games in with everybody there, and everybody keyed into their roles and started playing for one another.”
It started with a 6-2 win over LBJ on April 7. After falling 8-0 to Georgetown Gateway on April 14, the Buffaloes topped Comfort 4-2 on April 18.
In their win over Comfort, Zackery Pluhar threw six innings before C.J. Giddens closed out the game in the seventh, providing further proof of Florence’s pitching depth.
Florence lost a tight 6-5 decision on April 21 at Blanco before blowing out Ingram Moore, 14-4, on Tuesday and edging Lago Vista by one Friday.
In their three wins down the stretch, Giddens recorded six hits and three walks, and he also tallied three hits in the loss to Blanco on April 21.
Roy Carlson, Landon Byrne, Justin Trussell, Edgar, Pluhar and Cutter Callan have also gotten hot at the plate, and it’s been a collective recipe for success for a Buffaloes team trying to break through.
“I’m really happy for the kids to be in this situation and have this opportunity,” Estes said. “They all deserve it with the work they put in, not just for baseball, but all the other activities they are involved in. It’s a great group of kids all the way up, and I’m just happy for them to have this opportunity to be successful — to have this chance.”
Florence is scheduled to face LBJ with a playoff spot on the line Monday at Marble Falls at a time to be determined.